Eric

This is the Written Thesis prepared by 

Eric Closs  

in support of the Diploma Thesis.

The New School LawBook provides, in pertinent parts, as follows:

250100 Eligibility .

Thesis .  High school diplomas are awarded by The New School only after diploma candidates  have successfully defended  the following Thesis:  “I am ready to assume full responsibility for myself in the community at large.”. . .

250120 The Written Thesis (The Paper).

a) Written Thesis .  Once a Thesis Advisor has agreed to assist the student, the student shall write a paper which will constitute part of the student’s demonstration of the Thesis set out above.  The paper may be of any length and contain any material appropriate or persuasive regarding the Thesis. . . .  

The New School Homepage

 

 

Eric:  Socrates, my friend, I am glad to see you!

Socrates:  And I to see you.

Eric:  Where have you been today?  I have been looking everywhere for you!

Socrates:  I was in the Reading Room sleeping.  Why is it that you have been looking for me?

Eric:  I have a difficult question to answer and I would ask your help.

Socrates:  Ah, I do not know what help I can be with difficult questions.  What exactly is your dilemma?

Eric:  I want to be granted a diploma and it is required that I defend the position that I am ready to take full responsibility for myself in the community at large!  I must find out what this means if I am to succeed.

Socrates:  That sounds like a worthy goal.  How can I help you with this?

Eric:  How can you help?  Socrates, you tease me.  You know full well you are much wiser than I.

Socrates:  That I certainly am not.  I am afraid I know nothing at all.  How then, could I be wiser than you?  But let us not pursue that, lest we should distract you from your purpose.  You have given me such a great compliment, though undeserved it may be.  Of course I will help in any way that I can but do not be harsh with me, if matters become more confused than they seemed at the beginning.

Eric:  I do not know how matters are, Socrates.  Should we find the difficulty to be some complex issue, I would not begrudge you for revealing it to me.

Socrates:  Very good.  Then I shall try and outline the problem.  What we should endeavor to discover is:  what it means to take full responsibility for yourself in the community at large?

Eric:  Yes, that is it Socrates.

Socrates:  Then let us start with responsibility.  I once heard a friend propose a definition of responsibility.

Eric:  Tell me, what did your friend propose?

Socrates:  My friend said to me that being responsible for something was causing it to happen in the way you want.

Eric:  That sounds like an interesting idea, Socrates.  I have heard responsibility referred to as a duty.  I’m not sure this agrees with your friend’s idea.  Does that mean that responsibility is causing your duties to happen in the way you want?

Socrates:  I do not think so, as the definition is only that something happens in the way that you want.  It does not seem to specify whether or not this thing originates outside of you, as a duty does, or inside of you.

Eric:  Why do you say that a duty originates outside of you?  Can not a duty be something that you impose on yourself?

Socrates:  Why would you say that, Eric?

Eric:  Well, it seems that a person could marry and in so doing vow to love their spouse.  Then it would be a duty that they take on, but a duty they take on willingly.

Socrates:  I think there is a distinction worth making between a man loving a woman because it is his will and a man loving his wife because he is bound by marriage to do so.  I think that duty is the latter.  The man is expected to do something, so he does it to fulfill this obligation.

Eric:  So would the man loving his wife because it is his will be an example of the internal motivation you alluded to?

Socrates:  Yes, I think that is what I was referring to.

Eric:  I think that I have a better sense of your term duty, Socrates.  It seems to be a sort of owing-something.  That being so, if responsibility were a duty, it seems to be not an activity, but a reaction to something.

Socrates:  Perhaps, but let me use some examples to see if we can better understand this.  For instance, a man decides to free his slaves.  In another example, a different man is ordered by his ruler that the slaves in his house be set free.  Is the first man as responsible in freeing his slaves as the second man is?  Or does the responsibility of the men differ some how?

Eric:  I would say that the first man is more responsible than the second man, Socrates.

Socrates:  Why would you say that?

Eric:  The first man caused the slaves to be free and he has decided that this should be done.  The second man only reacts to his ruler’s will, not his own will.  He is not acting on his will to do something, but on  his will to have something not done to him.

Socrates:  We may not even consider the second man responsible because he did not cause something to happen in the way he wanted, he avoided something happening in the way he did not want.  That thing being disfavor or punishment from his ruler.

Eric:  Aha!  So the ruler was being responsible because it was he who was causing a thing to happen in the way he wanted!

Socrates:  (laughs) I am glad you are taking such pleasure in our discourse, Eric, but I do not think School Meeting is over yet.  No doubt they would not appreciate our enthusiasm being heard while they are thinking about other matters.

Eric:  Err, I am sorry, Socrates.  Sometimes I let myself get carried away. 

Socrates:  That is quite all right.

Eric:  Well, in any case, what of the effects of this idea of responsibility?  Could responsibility be said to be more often good, bad, or otherwise?

Socrates:  Be lenient with me dear Eric.  I have not wisdom, but I will speak what seems so to me and we must judge it here in our discussion.  I will say responsibility tends to be good, though I am not sure that is always the case.

Eric:  Why would it not be?

Socrates:  Well, a man could be careful about stealing from his neighbor in such a way that his neighbor didn't know he had done it.  This might be called responsible under our definition, as it is what the man says he wants, but we would not be likely to call that act of responsibility “good” as its purpose was ill for his neighbor.

Eric:  Then it seems there is something wrong with our idea of responsibility.

Socrates:  Perhaps.  Or perhaps a man cannot want to steal from his neighbor.

Eric:  Are you teasing me, Socrates?  I have known people who steal from whomever they please.

Socrates:  Yes, but how can we be confident that that is what they want to do?

Eric:  Well, they say they want to do it.

Socrates:  But about that they can be wrong.

Eric:  They can be wrong about what they want?  How can that be?

Socrates:  In a moment, I will show you my idea, but help me to do so.  Tell me Eric what seems to you a thing that would be good?

Eric:  Just anything that is good?

Socrates:  Yes.

Eric:  Well, to be friends with people.

Socrates:  And do you have another example?

Eric:  A hearty meal.

Socrates:  And another?

Eric:  An interesting conversation.

Socrates:  And we agree these things are good?

Eric:  I certainly do, Socrates, and do not see how you could not.

Socrates:  But what of others?  Is the man who has no friends the better for it?

Eric:  Certainly not him, Socrates.

Socrates:  And the one who does not eat hearty meals?

Eric:  Nor him either.

Socrates:  And what of he who does not engage in interesting conversation?

Eric:  That can’t be good, Socrates.

Socrates:  Then we are agreed that these things are good for men?

Eric:  We are definitely agreed.

Socrates:  Good.  Now then, when a man says he wants friends why do you think he wants them?

Eric:  Well, because it makes him happy.

Socrates:  And the hearty meal?

Eric:  To bolster his strength.

Socrates:  And the interesting conversation?

Eric:  To enrich his mind and provoke his thoughts.  Though there are many reasons for it.

Socrates:  But in all cases what he says he wants is something he thinks it will be good for him to get?

Eric:  Yes.

Socrates:  And can you think of any time a man thinks he wants something that he cannot see how it will be good for him to have?

Eric:  I cannot Socrates.

Socrates:  Well, perhaps then a man is not usually said to be responsible about stealing because stealing is not usually something he wants to do.

Eric:  Yes, this also seems to give us some insight into the nature of being responsible about things.  If men only want good things, whether they are aware of it or not, then it can be said that being responsible is causing things to happen in a good way.

Socrates:  But can something that is not good happen in a good way?

Eric:  That would not make much sense.

Socrates:  So would you then say that men can only be responsible about something, if what they do serves what would be good for them?

Eric:  I would say that Socrates, as we have said that men want what is good for them.  So if a man said that he wanted something, but the thing he named would do him harm, he is wrong about what he wants.

Socrates:  It is a strange thing we have proclaimed Eric and I fear that other men will look down on us for saying this.  We will tell them our idea and they will point at us and laugh for coming to such notions.  We must endeavor to see for ourselves whether or not this be true or whether, in our enthusiasm, we have come to some error.

Eric:  That sounds wise to me Socrates, as I do not desire to be mocked for any foolishness.

Socrates:  Then let us continue.  We have here, to this point, said men only desire good things regardless of their notions otherwise.  That, since this is so, responsibility must be causing things to happen in a good way and if bad things do not happen in good ways then acts of responsibility must be good.

Eric:  That is what we have said.  It sounds very daring to me now that it is all laid out.

Socrates:  Let us continue and make sure our daring is not ill ventured.  Are there situations in which a man has done something that is bad for him but he has still acted responsibly?

Eric:  I cannot think of any Socrates.

Socrates:  What of Odysseus when he was trapped in the Cyclops’s cave?

Eric:  You mean when he had to wait and let the Cyclops eat his men so that he might trick the Cyclops into letting the rest escape?

Socrates:  That is what I mean.  It was certainly good that he and some of his men escaped, but before they could, Odysseus had to wait to allow himself time to think of a plan.  If he had not -- if he had killed the Cyclops instead, to prevent the monster from slaying anyone -- no one would have been able to move the boulder in front of the cave and all would have perished.  Some of his men died, and we can certainly say it was not good for Odysseus that this happened, but it would have been far worse to kill the Cyclops and entomb them all.

Eric:  That seems so to me, my friend.  It seems as if men can cause things to happen in the way they want, as well as the way they don’t want, at the same time.  I mean that a man may do something that is good, but that also causes something to happen that is bad.  I think Odysseus acted responsibly though, making the best of his poor situation.

Socrates:  Did he?  Another thought comes to me now.  Is responsibility limited to the scope of the situation at hand or does it take into account the history of that situation?

Eric:  The history of the situation?  Do you mean something like Odysseus being responsible in all events leading up to his needing to escape the Cyclops’s cave?

Socrates:  That is what I mean.  Should we still say that clever Odysseus is a responsible man, if he goes into the Cyclops’s cave and eats his meat and cheese and sits and waits for the Cyclops to return?  He then had set up all the circumstances that required him to later make a choice that held bad for him;  for it is obvious it would have been better had a different route been taken.

Eric:  Odysseus certainly was not being responsible when he did those things that got his men and him trapped in the cave, Socrates.  But saying that he was not responsible in getting his men out, because he was not responsible in getting them in, is that not reaching beyond the scope of what is being said?

Socrates:  Perhaps, but let us consider it.  It seems to me that it happened like this:  Odysseus chose to investigate the island.  He chose to enter the Cyclops’s lair.  He chose to stay and to ask the Cylcops for aid.  If he had done something else in any of these situations, he would not then have had to make the choice between entombing himself and his crew or losing some men in order to escape.

Eric:  I think I see what you mean Socrates; but wouldn’t we say that his choices up until then were not responsible, but his choice at that moment was?  If the entire course of someone’s life was taken into account when judging the responsibility of that person, surely there is then no one we could call responsible --.  though, I don’t know if it is fair to compare it to the entire course of his life; more like the course of that day.

Socrates:  Hmm, perhaps this problem comes of you and I not meaning the same thing by our terms.  I am, referring to a broader responsibility while you seem to talk of a more particular case.

Eric:  You speak of a broader responsibility, Socrates.  What do you mean by this?

Socrates:  Well, suppose Odysseus was acting in the way he thought it best to act in order to get what he thought would be beneficial to him.  His “responsibility” was in finding and doing things that are good for him, not for finding and doing things that are good.  Do you see the distinction I draw?

Eric:  I think that I do, Socrates.  Do you say then that this broader responsibility is causing things to happen in a good way?  And this other kind, I shall call it “personal responsibility,” is causing good things to happen for yourself?

Socrates:  I agree that responsibility is causing things to happen in a good way.  I do not think that “personal responsibility” is right to call responsibility as we have named it.

Eric:  Why is that Socrates?

Socrates:  We have said that the good is what men want; we did not limit that to good for oneself.  Nor do I think that a man who does good could do so in earnest and not want to do good generally.  For how could a man earnestly pursue the good, but want it only for himself?

Eric:  Assuming that is true, does that imply, if someone is serious about seeking good, they seek it in all places, for the more they seek the more good they will find?

Socrates:  It may be.  I do not know.

Eric:  Let us go back to what you said a moment ago, Socrates.  If people didn’t do good for themselves, why would people do good?

Socrates:  I say that a responsible man would do good for the sake of the good.

Eric:  So not as the means to do some other thing, but a thing to do in itself?

Socrates:  Yes and I do not see how it could be any other way.

Eric:  Because, if responsible men want the good, but seek it for some other purpose, they then do not really want the good, but the other thing for which they acted.  It would not matter if this other purpose came about in a different way, just that it came about.  And what they sought the “good” for must actually be the good, if they are truly responsible men and know what they want.  Does that make any sense, Socrates?  I feel as if I have tied my tongue in knots.

Socrates:  You seem to say that , to be responsible, we must seek the good for its own sake -- and not just our good, but the most good that can be had in any situation.  You had much to make clear, but let it suffice to say that it made great sense to me.  Let us depart from these thoughts for a while and talk about the qualities of the responsible man, so that through the talking we might better grasp what it means to be responsible.

Eric:  Very good, that sounds like a most sensible idea.

Socrates:  Have you any idea of what the responsible man’s qualities are, Eric?

Eric:  I think I do.

Socrates:  How would you describe him?

Eric:  Well, to start with, he would be aware.

Socrates:  And why do you say that is a quality of the responsible man?

Eric:  If a man were not aware of what he wants he would not be able to think of how to get it.  Also, he would have to be aware of what relates to what he wants, so that he could see whether or not these related things are likely to interfere with it, support it or neither.

Socrates:  So you say then that thoughtfulness is a quality of the responsible man as well?

Eric:  Of course, Socrates  if you were not aware of yourself or anything else, you would not know how to direct your actions.  If you did not think about anything, you would stumble quite frequently into things you certainly DO NOT want and thus be irresponsible.

Socrates:  You speak so passionately and with such conviction, Eric, that I hesitate to question you and throw into light my obvious ignorance.  I apologize, for I am a lover of truth and I simply must question you to make sure I understand.

Eric:  Ah, forgive me, Socrates, sometimes I speak very confidently about things I am not sure I know.  I have no answers, but I will see how my notions hold up under your questioning.

Socrates:  I did not intend to mock.  However, let us see how your notions are.  What do you mean by “think?”

Eric:  Eh, that is a hard thing to describe, Socrates, let me try.  I suppose that I meant it in the sense of piecing things together and predicting their effects.

Socrates:  And this prediction, on what is it based?

Eric:  Well, it is based on how one pieces things together, as I said.  That includes how one understands other things to function and how one has seen things functioning before.  For example, imagine that I am a child of three:  I see a bird fly through the air above me.  I wonder how it accomplishes this and think perhaps it is like the spinning toy above my cradle and is held up by a string.  I see no string, so I move on and think perhaps it has been thrown as I throw a ball.  I see it land and take off again, with no thrower, so I move on and think perhaps it can jump much higher than I can.  I may continue this a long time, until I am satisfied with an answer I judge to be true.  Perhaps I would  not continue so long a time, if I were  a child of three, but then again, I do not recall that year very well.

Socrates:  I am getting a better idea of what you mean.  So you say thinking is connecting things through how you observe and imagine them to work together?

Eric:  That is one kind of thought, at least, Socrates.  It is the kind I think I was referring to.

Socrates:  Let me move back to your initial statement and ask a question there.  How can a man know how to direct his actions?

Eric:  I would think, besides being aware and thoughtful, that a person would know how to direct his actions by being disciplined, being honest, and being brave.  Those seem like necessary qualities if one is to know how to direct one’s own actions.

Socrates:  But how can a man know how to direct his actions through those qualities?

Eric:  Discipline will allow the man to continue on in spite of things he would find unpleasant.  Bravery will overcome things that are unknown, that discipline might not overcome.  Honesty, with himself, will serve to help examination of things.  If a man lies to himself, he has no way of addressing what he is having trouble with. 

Socrates:  But you still do not tell me why you would know how to direct your actions because of these things?

Eric:  Ah, that is true, Socrates.  Again, I have not spoken precisely, I am afraid.  I do not have any reason to think that one would know how to act from this, only that one would get a reasonable idea how to act.  Knowing what to do and being reasonably confident of what to do are clearly different things.

Socrates:  Then we are in the same boat, as it has become common to say.  I do not seem to know anything and I do not know how to gain knowledge either.  However, this points to a certain idea of how to be responsible, if we think that we are not simply two who are completely ignorant.  It seems that you must be precise in speech.  For, if you are not precise in speech, you will not understand what you are talking about.

Eric:  Being precise seems very similar to being honest, though they might have a subtle difference.

Socrates:  What is the difference?

Eric:  Well, it seems like I described honesty as a quality of a responsible person to say that one must not lie to himself, but must endeavor to tell himself the truth instead.  Otherwise, one would have no sense of the actual state of things and thus nothing on which to base thoughts about what should be.  As well, precision is there to make sure that one does not fool himself into thinking something is true that only makes sense by a trick of words.  If one were to do this, his thinking would be based on falsehood and he could not use it to discover what is good.  Nor would he be able to understand things very well, which may be good in itself.

Socrates:  They do seem very similar, perhaps even the same thing in different words.  I am not sure I understand what you mean by “lying to himself.”  How could someone do this?

Eric:  I am not sure what I mean either.  However, it is clear to me that sometimes people lie to themselves about things.  Why is not always clear; a lot of the time it seems it is because they dislike having to deal with the situation.  For instance, I am writing a paper to defend my thesis this year and I continually procrastinate and tell myself that I will have enough time to finish it before my set deadline, which is certainly not true.

Socrates:  What is the paper about?

Eric:  I’ll tell you later.

Socrates:  As you wish.  So, you say then that a man can be aware that something is a lie but still act as if they believe it, even if only to themselves, to avoid the action they would have to take if they accepted it as a lie?

Eric:  Yes, that is exactly what I mean to say.

Socrates:  Ah, now I have a new thought about what you said; help me see whether I understand it well.  If honesty describes guarding against things you would lie to yourself about, precision is the process used to guard against lies of which you are aware and lies of which you are unaware.

Eric:  Excellently said, Socrates.  I think that is the sense that can be drawn from what I said, even if I saw no sense in my saying to begin with.

Socrates:  There appears to have been sense.  I find that sometimes the meanings of our own words are not apparent, until we ponder them more.  However, let me now continue talking of the qualities of the responsible man, since, through your speaking, an image in my mind has now formed of another of this man’s qualities.

Eric:  I am listening, Socrates, please go on.

Socrates:  The responsible man must, underlying all else, be a lover of truth.  If there were no love of truth, he would not care about whether or not it is true that he wants what he says he wants;  or, if it is true, when it seems that he is brave;  or, if is true, when he thinks he is aware.  He would be satisfied to sit in his ignorance, as if that were as far as he believed he could go -- or perhaps only as far as he desires to go.

Eric:  I agree with you completely, Socrates.  It seems so obvious to me that love of truth is necessary, that I feel like I can provide little challenge to test this idea, for my view is no different from your own.

Socrates:  If we are crazy, Eric, and love of truth is unnecessary, then we could feel no regret in it.

Eric:  Why is that, Socrates?

Socrates:  Well, if love of truth is not needed to be responsible, then it does not matter if we are wrong, does it?

Eric:  (laughs) I see what you mean.  If responsibility is a good thing but truth is not needed for good....  Well, that would simply not make much sense.

Socrates:  Certainly not.

Eric:  It does recall to mind another quality of responsible people though, Socrates.

Socrates:  What is that?

Eric:  Responsible people seem also to be optimistic.

Socrates:  What is optimism?

Eric:  I would say that optimism is having a choice whether or not to think of things as good or bad but supposing they are good.

Socrates:  Does being optimistic then entail a certain disregard for truth?

Eric:  I do not think so, Socrates.  It seems like, ideally, optimism comes into play when one does not know whether something will be bad or whether it will be good;  it is in this case of uncertainty that optimism leads one to assume a good outcome.  If one has sufficient reason to judge the thing to be bad, one would not then let optimism blind him to this, but keeping his attitude well in line with being able to do things seems more conducive to accomplishing  what one wants to do.

Socrates:  So we could say then that the pessimistic man is not a responsible man.  When he sees what is good, he does not follow through in doing what is good.  He says that it is “unlikely” or “probably going to turn out bad anyway” and thus hinders his own ability to do what he wants.

Eric:  That seems to follow well, Socrates.  The optimistic person takes ‘chances’ in doing his responsible acts.  Chance taking also seems to be a necessary part of some of the other qualities we have named, of bravery, for instance.

Socrates:  We have spoken at length on responsibility, Eric, and the hour is drawing late.  I am afraid the Closer will ask us to leave, before we have talked about the entire thesis.

Eric:  What have we not mentioned?

Socrates:  The context of responsibility; “in the community at large.”

Eric:  Let us go up to the Corner Room and talk of that.  Closers usually check there last.

(Eric and Socrates adjourn to the Corner Room and continue their discussion)

Eric:  I think we were about to speak about what “in the community at large” could mean?

Socrates:  Yes, that is it, Eric.

Eric:  It seems like “in the community at large” is straightforward, Socrates, so I haven’t really questioned it much as of yet.

Socrates:  Oh?  Why do you say so?

Eric:  I don’t know exactly what is meant by community but it seems to be a gathering of people of one kind or another.  “At large” seems to imply that the gathering of people will be mobile or unrestrained.  So it might be just used to describe taking full responsibility for yourself around people generally.

Socrates:  What makes you think the community is a human community?

Eric:  I just assumed.  I guess the scope of what a person wants appears to extend into realms beyond  humans, at least physically.  For instance, when a person would go into the woods to admire the forest.  That seems good for the person.

Socrates:  Is the forest part of the community at large?

Eric:  Its part of a group of trees.  They seem to be a gathering of something (if that’s what a community is) that is “at large” in the sense that it is out there in the world.

Socrates:  So you say then that the thesis means taking full responsibility for yourself in different groups?

Eric:  Perhaps that.  You might even say that life itself is a sort of gathering; though I don’t know what an alternative to “gathered” would look like then.

Socrates:  That might be too expansive a view of gathering, but what would the meaning then be, if that were true?  That you are ready to take full responsibility for yourself in life?

Eric:  That sounds like a good thing to do, though I don’t know if that’s the meaning of the thesis.

Socrates:  It may be that being ready to take responsibility for yourself in life would also imply that you would be ready to take responsibility for yourself in a group, as there are many groups in life.

Eric:  I think you would then have to say, Socrates, that taking responsibility for yourself, involves interacting with groups.  It seems that a person could avoid groups in their life by retiring to a mountain top.  I’m not sure.  From what we have reasoned, we could say that being responsible in life is also being responsible in groups.

Socrates:  You are right, Eric.  Certainly some argument would have to be made as to why it is good for a man to be with others.  But perhaps we have focused too greatly on life being a community, as it states in the thesis that you must be ready to be responsible in the community at large.  This seems to already tell us that you must be responsible with others. 

Eric:  I still do not have a clear idea of what the community at large means though.  I suppose that I have tried to understand it as the contexts that a person needs to be responsible in.  As you said, this may be too expansive, but it was my first idea of how the thesis would make sense.

Socrates:  Ah, I think I hear someone approaching.

Eric:  I do also; let us speak quickly of what our thoughts are currently lest we walk away from this conversation too abruptly to be satisfied!

Socrates:  I will offer some summary of what we have said then:  we have said that being responsible means causing things to happen in the way that you want; also that men only want good things, whether they are aware of it or not, and, since this is so, ‘the way that you want’ is the way that is good; that responsible things are then also good things; that qualities helpful and perhaps necessary for responsibility are thoughtfulness, awareness, honesty, courage, discipline, precision, love of truth, and optimism; and that the community at large seems to mean gatherings in all places or in one’s life.

Eric:  So, the gist of “ready to take full responsibility for yourself in the community at large,” may be “doing what is good in life?”

Socrates:  It might mean that, though we have not even begun to explore what ‘full’ could mean as it states in the thesis that you be “ready to assume full responsibility for yourself in the community at large.”   Neither am I sure how one’s self relates to the good.

Melanie:  Time to go, boys, it’s 5:15.

Eric:  To take full responsibility for myself now, hmm...  Melanie is giving me a ride home tonight, and I don’t want to freeze to death walking home in the cold, so I suppose I should leave.

Socrates:  But does that cause good or only avoid something bad?

Eric:  Just avoidance of bad, I think.  To serve what is good, I should probably schedule lunch with you, so we can continue our talk.

Melanie:  I’m leaving, after all the doors are locked, and if you two aren’t out of here by then, you can find another ride.

Socrates:  This seems to involve my responsibility also.  How is 12 at Suburban tomorrow?

Eric:  That sounds excellent, Socrates.

Socrates:  I will see you then.

Eric: Until then.  

 

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